What is most remarkable about The Atlantic's 130th anniversary issue (November) is how unremarkable its contents are -- unremarkable in this sense: The magazine is this good, with writers known and unknown on topics vast and tiny, month in and month out.
In these pages we find new work by an Atlantic discovery, William Least Heat Moon, whose "Blue Highways" was launched in the magazine in 1982. Here, in the company of a drinking buddy named The Venerable Tashmoo, Least Heat Moon explores the new world (mainly on the West Coast) of local breweries, labors of love for good beer as it used to be. Neither Least Heat Moon nor the "micro-brewers" he interviews have any illusion that Americans in significant numbers can be weaned from bland industrial suds (or "wet air," as believers call it). But the charm of their craft is that they really prefer it that way.
Then there's John Lewis Gaddis, a professor of history at Ohio University, speculating provocatively about an event he considers inevitable: the end of the Cold War. Assuming it does not end in nuclear conflagration, Gaddis is interested in how it might happen instead (The emergence of a third world power? The exhaustion of one of the principal competitors? A change in attitude by one or both of them?) and finally in how it may be happening already, tacitly and unintentionally, under Soviet and American noses.
Next there's "The Man Who Loves Only Numbers," by Paul Hoffman, the mind-blowing story of mathematician Paul Erdo s. The man lives out of a suitcase, gives most of his money away, doesn't like to touch people, takes amphetamines almost around the clock, didn't learn how to butter his toast until he was 21, and has written or cowritten more than 1,000 mathematical papers (50 is considered an impressive lifetime achievement).
Erdo s speaks a language all his own. An "epsilon," for instance, is a small child. The "SF," Hoffman tells us, is the Supreme Fascist, "who is always tormenting Erdo s by hiding his glasses, stealing his Hungarian passport, or, worse yet, keeping to Himself the elegant solutions to all sorts of intriguing mathematical problems."
Nonetheless, Erdo s has solved more than a few -- or discovered solutions that were already there, as he prefers to see it. He is a seeker, he says, of "beauty" and "insight," and Hoffman's extraordinary talent (the kind The Atlantic nurtures) is making you understand what he means.
It is not hard to see why U.S. News & World Report, in a recent survey of health magazines, found Hippocrates to be the best. The November/December issue is full of absorbing and enlightening reading, beginning with Patrick Cooke's cover story on country doctors as a vanishing species.
The story is set in tiny Corinth, Vt. Back in 1981, after nearly three decades as the only doctor for miles around, Frances Olsen decided to retire. But it was not until this year, after a frustrating search and one false start, that the town was able to find her successor, Margery Gordon.
You'd think an idyllic hamlet like Corinth would attract any number of idealistic family practitioners, but the facts of rural doctoring are not terribly inviting.
Frances Olsen's patients tended to be poor (she never made more than $30,000 a year in Corinth), and Medicare reimbursements for the elderly are lower than in metropolitan areas. Office visits are 35 percent more frequent in rural areas than in cities, and the cost of medical supplies far higher when a doctor must be prepared for any contingency. Plus, as Cooke points out, "physicians who slingshot out of high-pressure medical schools into the slow, unchanging climate of a small town may find the pace and the isolation unbearable."
There's more to the story, and more to the crisis in rural health care, than this summary suggests. There's also much more in the magazine -- Patricia Long's disconcerting alert about food poisoning hazards in the typical kitchen; how a victim of the rare Tourette syndrome leads his life; and Penny Ward Moser's odyssey from thick eyeglasses to primitive contact lenses back to glasses and back to space-age contacts again.
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Catherine Barnett has a wonderful essay in the November Art & Antiques about the unanticipated pitfalls of keeping modern art intact. When artists add to their palettes such things as "fat, felt, fur, cigarette ash, yoghurt, chocolate, honey, live crickets, and stuffed goats," what happens when the items deteriorate or detach themselves from the masterpiece? The problem is not just practical. To one restorer, it's "ideological" -- what if the artist intended a statement about self-destruction? And how is the owner supposed to feel about that kind of statement?
Equus, the horse magazine, celebrates 10 prosperous years with its November issue. Along with the usual birthday cheers (dramatic and touching photos of horses, upbeat commentary by "industry leaders" of the horse world, a history of the magazine's success) are articles on horseback riding as therapy and the dicey prospects for equestrians at the Seoul Olympics. The uninitiated will enjoy ads for equine nutrition software, Dolly Parton's custom carriages, a "mare foaling predictor kit," and an electronic "distance computing helmet" for perfect jumps every time.